Saturday, January 28, 2006

Postcard from Lisbon

I've been in Lisbon a few times, but always on business, in a rush and not staying in the city for longer than a lunch.

And so too was my trip this week, just an overnight, once again not even in the city.

It is a really historical place, particularly in terms of world exploration and trade, and the teasing glimpses which I've had so far only reinforce my determination to go back and spend a little time there.

The road systems are great, the city is easy to get through, and there's a wealth of architectural and cultural diversity.

The Expo 98 held in the city was the last of the great trade expositions mounted in the 20th century, and was appropriately on the theme of 'The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future'.

Much of it centred around a redevelopment of run-down docklands along the Tagus estuary, which included a seaplane airport at Olivais which was a very important link between the Americas and Europe during WW II, when neutral Portugal was a 'buffer' country, and Lisbon itself a hive of intrigue and agents from the warring countries.

Now the Parque das Nações (Nations' Park) urban development project covers 340 hectares of a self-contained urban whole, with residential quarters, stores, services, urban infrastructure, parking facilities and parks.

Portugal isn't afraid of being avant with its architecture, as can be seen from these few pictures taken in the Expo 98 area as I waited for transfer to the airport.

The massive Vasco da Gama bridge, completed in a record-breaking time for such a project as part of the Expo, is more than 17km long and encompasses a variety of bridge construction methods. It is an extremely important link between the city and the southern part of the country across the river. It is solely a road bridge, with a striking suspended section, 47m high, near the Lisbon side which allows ships to pass under it (the part in the top picture).

The bridge is named after the famous maritime explorer, Vasco da Gama. In 1498 he discovered the sea route to the Indies around the Cape of Good Hope. His voyage began at Belém, only a few kilometres further down the river from the bridge.

There are commercial buildings and leisure amenities such as an Oceanarium, the Virtual Reality Pavilion, the Knowledge Pavilion, Macau Pavilion, and you can attend live concerts in the Atlantic Pavilion, again all built as part of the Expo 98.

This piece is quite literally a postcard, but I'll go back soon on my own time and delve into what was often an amazing history of politics and commerce.

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